Here’s What it Really Means to Support Black-Owned Businesses—and How to Do It
For the past few weeks, in cities across the U.S., protesters have marched, knelt, and called for justice for George Floyd, a black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd’s death stands alongside that of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Elijah McClain, and countless others in fatal incidents of racial violence.
As supporters of this movement try to find a way forward in addition to protest and legal justice, many are calling for increased support of black-owned businesses. Not only is business ownership a wealth-generating activity—which is important for a demographic whose average familial wealth is slated to fall to $0 by 2053—but supporting black-owned businesses keeps money in the community for longer, mitigating the effects of racial disparities.
The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) published a study in 2017 detailing the state of black wealth and business. “When we look at building wealth for black households or black communities, business ownership is a key strategy,” AEO CEO Connie Evans said in an interview with Next City that year.
“Some people don’t consider it a successful business unless the business has created 500 jobs, but that’s just not the metric of success for everyone.” Evans gave the example of a black-owned carry-out restaurant that had been in business for 20 years. “They’re providing jobs and are a resource in the community.”
Supporting black businesses is an even more significant form of protest when coupled with the fact that the mere existence of black companies and communities has long been held as a threat to white supremacy. June 1 was the 99th anniversary of the race riots that set fire to Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District, historically referred to as Black Wall Street. The riots were sparked by rumors that a young black man had tried to rape a white teenage girl. Those murmurings were the match that started the fire in a city whose racial tensions had been stewing for quite some time. When white mobs descended on the 35 square blocks of Greenwood, they did so with the protection and, according to some reports, the help of local police officers, who arrested many black citizens but none of the white attackers.
Unlike in 1921, today’s fires and cries and demands for justice come from a population begging for their lives to be adequately protected and valued, for their efforts to be seen as equal, and for their opportunities to not be hindered by the color of their skin. Despite 24 hours of violence and casualties of up to 1100, no one connected to the attack on Black Wall Street was ever prosecuted or punished by the government. The Greenwood District was rebuilt in the years following, but today is no longer a hub for black entrepreneurship like it was in 1921.
Nearly a century after Black Wall Street burned to the ground, black-owned businesses are still fighting for space. Project Diane found that black women have raised just 0.06% of all venture capital since 2009 despite seeing entrepreneurship numbers double in the past four years alone.
This is why supporting black-owned businesses aids in dismantling systems of oppression: at a time when stark racial disparities persist, a closer look at where you spend your dollars can help to close the wealth and achievement gap for businesses that strengthen underserved communities.
Finding Businesses to Support
If you’re not sure where to find black-owned businesses either online or in your local area, there are a few places to start—and more than a few spending categories to choose from.
An app called EatOkra was founded in 2016 by Anthony and Janique Edwards, who wanted to make it easier to find black-owned restaurants in various cities. The mobile app lists over 1,700 establishments serving a diverse range of cuisines.
If you’d rather see a list of all kinds of businesses—including online—there is a robust collection of directories to choose from. The Nile List, which launched earlier this year, can direct you to brands selling everything from hair and body care to apparel and home goods. Official Black Wall Street’s directory allows you to search for service businesses in your local area—think wellness studios, accountants, and real estate agents—in addition to those selling products.
Not interested in clicking around to different sites? There are a couple of online shops that exclusively sell products from black-owned brands. BLK + GRN focuses on all-natural products, with an emphasis on items designed for women. My own company, Bold Xchange, sells a range of products from black-owned brands, with 3-day shipping included on every order.
Shifting Your Interior Decorating Dollars
In February, Apartment Therapy spoke to artists and design professionals about the challenges they’ve faced in the interiors industry. The common thread among all nine of those conversations? Racialized issues in the industry stem not from a lack of talent, but a lack of visibility. Supporting black-owned design firms and black artists helps to lessen the impact of this gatekeeping.
We highlighted three artists in that piece. The first, Barry Johnson, based in Seattle, has an interesting approach to creating new work: “Every time I’m making a piece, I always will have a diary that is attached to that piece.” While he doesn’t share it publicly, he uses each diary to write a letter that will go along with the piece, detailing his mindset and experiences while creating it.
Painter Sean Qualls is inspired by vintage advertisements in his work, which focuses largely on identity. While he has illustrated a number of children’s books, he also creates full-sized paintings designed to create a dialogue about how people see themselves.
Ashley Buttercup is a self-taught mixed media artist. In the grand tradition of black business owners and creatives, she has always been invested in fostering community for others, creating an art journal even while she was still working a corporate job.
If what you really need is a designer who will work with you to create and execute on a vision for your space (likely pulling in black contractors and vendors along the way) there are plenty of options. For Atlanta spaces, consider Forbes + Masters, the namesake design firm of Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters.
In the Northeast, Angela Belt not only executes on interior design projects, she has also curated a listing of black industry professionals. 29 Black Tastemakers highlights artists, makers, and designers, further dismantling the gatekeeping that threatens to keep their work from reaching its full potential.
Tapping black designers and artists to fill the most important spaces in your life is about much more than just the dollars you spend. It affirms the work and humanity of a people who have been silenced, shut out, and undervalued for far too long.